From the statehouse

Here are 14 education bills that survived Indiana’s legislative session and 3 that didn’t

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Gov. Mike Pence is on the shortlist to be Trump's VP choice.

Indiana’s 2016 legislative session ended much as it began: With major education policy bills flying ahead on testing and teaching.

Gov. Mike Pence said he considered the session, start to finish, a success for the state, noting the strong support from lawmakers for bills like one that holds teachers and schools harmless from the consequences of dramatic drops in ISTEP scores after the test was reconfigured last year. Pence also praised another bill that aims to gets rid of the test altogether after 2017.

“We took decisive steps early in this session to ensure that as we raised standards and introduced a new test that the teacher bonuses and compensation would not be affected and that our schools would be treated fairly,” Pence said. “It (is) time for us to take a step back from ISTEP and think about new ways and a new system of accountability that could earn the confidence of parents and teachers, and we’ve taken a decisive step in this session to repeal and replace ISTEP.”

Not everyone was so happy. State Superintendent Glenda Ritz doesn’t think the legislature — especially its Republican majority — did enough for schools and teachers.

“Bipartisan common sense did not last long in the Statehouse,” Ritz said. “The legislature failed to take action to address Indiana’s teacher shortage in a comprehensive or substantial way.”

Ritz said none of the recommendations she and a panel of 49 educators formed this past summer were included in any bills that passed. She plans to move ahead with the suggestions that don’t require approval or funding from the Indiana General Assembly and push for the others to return next year.

“This legislative session was little more than a missed opportunity for Indiana,” Ritz said.

Here’s what happened to 14 education bills on the legislative agenda this year that are moving forward and three that won’t:

BILLS HEADING TO THE GOVERNOR

ISTEP repeal. House Bill 1395, authored by House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, would eliminate the state’s ISTEP testing program by July 2017 and create a committee to study new testing options and review Indiana’s current A-F accountability system. The bill passed the House 77-19 and the Senate 50-0.

Teacher scholarships. House Bill 1002, authored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, would set up a system for aspiring teachers to get $7,500 per year towards four years of college tuition in exchange for teaching for five years in Indiana schools. To be eligible, students would have to rank in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating classes. The bill passed the House 97-0 and the Senate 48-2.

Teacher mentoring. House Bill 1005, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would give extra pay to teachers who are rated effective and agree to mentor new teachers. The bill would also allow teachers in their first two years of work who receive poor ratings on their annual reviews to be eligible for salary raises. Right now, teachers who receive low marks are not allowed to earn raises. The extra pay is not open to union negotiation, and neither is extra pay for teachers of Advanced Placement classes that was added later on. The mentoring bill also absorbed all of a Senate bill that would, among other things, extend the deadline to apply for private school tuition vouchers. The bill passed the House 51-43 and the Senate 33-17.

Dual credit. House Bill 1370, authored by Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, would study possible future partnerships between high schools and universities for teachers in the state’s popular dual college credit program, which allows students to earn college credit while still in high school. The bill is a response to a change in rules from the state’s accrediting body that says all dual credit teachers need master’s degrees or 18 graduate credit hours in the subjects they teach. It passed the House 84-5 and the Senate 49-1.

Minority teacher scholarships. House Bill 1034, authored by Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis, would make technical changes to the minority teacher scholarship and change its name in honor of the of former state Rep. William A. Crawford from Indianapolis who died last year. The bill passed the House 95-0 and the Senate 50-0.

Minority student teaching stipend. House Bill 1179, authored by Rep. Donna Harris, D-East Chicago, would let students from underrepresented ethnic groups who are pursuing degrees to become school administrators receive a stipend from the minority student teaching fund. The final version of the bill also includes provisions on school building improvements. The bill passed the House 95-0 and the Senate 50-0.

Workplace Spanish. House Bill 1209, authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, would allow schools to recognize students who have passed certain Spanish language classes with a special designation on their high school transcripts. The bill passed the House 94-1 and the Senate 40-10.

High school diplomas. House Bill 1219, authored by Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, would require all public high schools to offer any diploma approved by the Indiana State Board of Education. It passed the House 93-0 and the Senate 50-0.

Federal funding. House Bill 1330, authored by Behning, would require, among other things, that the Indiana Department of Education make available to schools and districts the formula and data used to calculate school federal poverty aid. It passed the House 83-11 and the Senate 26-24.

Innovation Network Schools. House Bill 1394, authored by Behning, establishes requirements for enrollment in Innovation Network schools, autonomous schools that run in partnership with an outside organization or charter school that are still under the umbrella of a school district. It would also allow a traditional public school board to make an agreement with a charter school to become an Innovation Network School. If the innovation school wants to use just student test score growth, rather than the test scores themselves, to determine its A-F accountability grade, it would be allowed to for up to three years. The bill passed the House 87-9 and the Senate 49-1.

Curricular materials. Senate Bill 96, authored by Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, gives school districts four years, instead of 3, on contracts to buy or lease curricular materials, such as textbooks. It passed the Senate 49-0 and the House 95-0.

Out-of-school learning fund. Senate Bill 251, authored by Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, would create a fund to give schools grants to pay for programs before and after school. The bill also creates an advisory board to make recommendations about the fund to the Indiana Department of Education. It passed the Senate 41-4 and the House 90-4.

Various education issuesSenate Bill 93, authored by Kruse, has many provisions, including one that would change the definition of “secondary school” to include elementary grades so lower-grade teachers can participate in a federal loan forgiveness programs for “highly qualified teachers in high needs areas.” The bill would also require that schools have a source of safe drinking water. Additionally, the sweeping bill assigns a variety of issues to study committees, including school start times, incentives for dual credit teachers and the feasibility of individual teacher salary negotiations. The bill passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 96-0.

Charter school data. Senate Bill 9, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would remove the requirement that charter schools report certain information to the state, such as student enrollment, students’ names and addresses and what school a student transferred from. The bill passed the Senate 48-0 and the House 95-0.

MAJOR BILLS THAT DIED

Teacher pay. Senate Bill 10, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, and House Bill 1004, authored by Behning, would have allowed districts to give teachers extra pay outside of union-negotiated collective bargaining agreements. The House version said the pay could only be given to teachers who took a job the district deemed hard to fill, but the Senate version would have authorized extra pay to attract or retain teachers “as needed.” Both bills were strongly opposed by some teachers and teachers unions, who argued the measure usurped not only union power but also could create a poisonous atmosphere among teachers and administrators. Supporters said the freedom was needed to combat teacher hiring problems across the state. House and Senate Republicans said too much “misinformation” had been spread about the bills and decided not to call either one for a final vote.

Consolidation. Senate Bill 307, authored by Kenley, would have allowed school districts within the same county to merge administrative services to cut costs, but keep the “historical legacy” of the individual districts. The bill passed the Senate 48-2, but Kenley withdrew the measure at a House committee meeting after public testimony revealed a lack of public support. “For some reason … there is such a fervor among the small school group that this is an inappropriate bill,” Kenley said. “I don’t have any desire to pass a bill that tells someone to do something they don’t want to do.”

Charter Churn

New York City charters burn through principals faster than district schools, report finds

PHOTO: Getty Images / Spencer Platt
A charter school rally in New York City

As the principal at Renaissance Charter School, Stacey Gauthier’s job extends well beyond supervising teachers. She manages fundraising, lobbies elected officials to support charter schools, and even responds to issues raised by the teachers union.

“We are basically our own district,” she said, noting that the work of running an independent charter school can be a challenge without the infrastructure that comes with a school system or even a large charter network.

Despite that heavy workload, Gauthier has stayed in her role for 11 years, making her an outlier among charter principals. According to a first-of-its-kind report released earlier this month by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank, the city’s charter schools generally churn through principals at a much higher rate than traditional district schools.

Last school year, 25 percent of the city’s charter school principals were new, more than double the turnover rate at district schools. That level of turnover represents something of a paradox: Studies show principal turnover can hurt student achievement, but research has also shown the city’s charter schools generally have higher state test scores than district schools do.

“If the research is right” about the consequences of principal turnover, said Marcus Winters, a Manhattan Institute fellow and the report’s author, “by addressing it, [charter schools] could improve even more.”

But it’s not clear why turnover is so much higher at charter schools, which also often churn through teachers at a higher rate.

One reason could be differences in student demographics. Since charter schools enroll a greater share of low-income students and students of color than district schools on average, that could make for a more challenging environment that contributes to churn. But controlling for differences in student demographics — including proportions of English learners, students with disabilities, those coming from poor families, and race — the report found no meaningful effect on turnover.

Another possible reason: Charter principals are easier to fire than district principals who typically have more union protections. A charter principal who runs a school that is seen as low performing is easier to replace, the theory goes, explaining higher levels of turnover. But the data don’t back up that theory. Even after taking into account differences in school performance as measured by school quality reports, higher turnover “was not driven by overall school performance,” Winters found.

It’s also possible charter schools are just more difficult work environments in ways that are difficult to measure, including some schools’ adoption of a “no excuses” ethos that tells educators that a student’s life circumstances should never excuse performance issues at school. (The report does not include breakdowns of individual charter schools or networks.)

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said there could be some truth to the idea that charter schools are tougher work environments, but added that some of the turnover could be related to fierce competition for leadership talent.

“There’s such a huge supply-demand imbalance for high-quality principals,” he said.

The report includes another puzzling trend — turnover in district and charter schools fluctuates significantly over time. Over the past 10 years, turnover at district schools ranged from 8.7 to 14 percent each year. At charters, turnover ranged from 7 to nearly 34 percent. Those swings meant that in two of the last 10 years, district turnover was slightly higher than it was at charters.

Winters, the report’s author, didn’t come to a firm conclusion about why the turnover rates seemed to shift significantly from year to year.

“I left this paper with more questions than answers,” he said.

Speaking Up

Letters to J.B.: Here’s what 10 Illinois educators said governor-elect Pritzker should prioritize

PHOTO: Keri Wiginton/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images

As governor-elect and national early childhood education advocate J.B. Pritzker assembles his transition team and builds out his early agenda, we asked educators to weigh in with items he should consider.

Here are 10 of their responses, which range from pleas for more staffing to more counseling and mental health services. Letters have been edited only for clarity and length. Got something to add? Use the comment section below or tell us on Twitter using #PritzkerEdu.

From: A non-profit employee who works with schools in the city and suburbs

Letter to J.B.: I work with a number of students from the City of Chicago and sadly most of them lack basic skills. Most of the students lack the ability to read and write properly, and perform below grade level. It is alarming how many students don’t have critical-thinking and analytical skills. The lack of education in low-income and minority population will hurt our city and state in years to come.

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From: A youth organizer at Morrill Elementary, a K-8 school on Chicago’s Southwest Side

Letter to J.B.: Morrill School has suffered from constant turnover due to an unstable Chicago Public Schools environment that cares more about upholding its own self-interest than the people it should be serving. We need representatives that will advocate for what communities say they need!

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From: A music teacher at a Chicago charter school

Letter to J.B.: I work at a charter school and I don’t think we are doing the best we can for our kids. Our school’s policies are too harsh and dehumanizing.

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From: A Chicago charter school social worker

Letter to J.B.: We’ve cut mental health services throughout the city and that has crippled us. Parents have a hard time getting jobs and having enough money to supply basic needs.

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From: A Chicago principal

Letter to J.B.: My school is 100 percent free- and reduced-price lunch-eligible, or low-income population. We are a middle years International Baccalaureate school. Our children were once were the lowest performing in the area and now we are a Level 1-plus school. Our school was on the closing list back in 2005 when I took over.

But now we are an investment school. Teachers are dedicated and work hard. We need funding for a new teacher to keep classes small and additional funds to purchase multiple resources to continue and strengthen overall academics. We have a vested interest in educating all of our children!

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From: A teacher at A.N. Pritzker Elementary in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood

Letter to J.B.: Great kids. Great staff. No librarian. Extremely poor special education services. No substitute teachers. No time for planning. No time for anyone to provide mental health services for those in need.

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From: A teacher at Whitney Young High School on Chicago’s Near West Side

Letter to J.B.: Every teacher knows that well over 90 percent of the students with academic problems have serious problems at home and in their neighborhoods. In the suburbs, social worker and psychologist staffing levels are often five to 10 times what they are here in the city, where kids are dealing with way more challenges, not less. If you’re looking for bang for your buck, fund psychologists and social workers!

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From: A teacher in the Galesburg CUSD 205

Letter to J.B.: Our school is diverse in all definitions of the word. We have a diverse population in terms of race, money, and ability. We currently don’t have the money to keep all of the schools in our district open and are in the process of closing some of the buildings in order to get the others up to code and comfortable; many of our schools don’t even have air conditioning.

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From: A teacher at Kiefer School, a Peoria school that educates children with severe behavioral and learning challenges

Letter to J.B.: We work with students with behavioral and mental challenges who need more help getting mental health services. We’ve had children deflected from being hospitalized due to no beds being available.

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From: A teacher at Unity Junior High School in Cicero

Letter to J.B.: People often think that our school is “bad,” but the truth is, we have so many staff and students that work hard every day to bring positive change.